Ashok Datar, Chairman, Mumbai Environment Network emphasises the need for optimum use of space under flyovers and the efficacy of the disarmingly simple concept of providing right turning lanes under them. After a year-long study of Mumbai’s Santa Cruz flyover, he has proposed a makeover plan.
The pictures of filthy bathrooms, broken staircases and marble sinks with stains of spit paan in the Commonwealth Games village were splashed on television in India and many Commonwealth countries two weeks before the games. There were many other problems, perhaps bigger, such as failures and delays in constructing the village as well as financial padding. Unseasonal and prolonged rains in the national capital did not help much either as they created puddles of water all over the village. This marred image of the country should make us think seriously about the finish, tidiness and housekeeping at most of our projects in a serious manner. We need to ensure that a high level of cleanliness and tidiness must be insisted upon in writing before the completion of the construction process and the same must be maintained throughout the life of the project.
After carrying out a photographic study of the space underneath the 37 flyovers in use in Mumbai for more than ten years, we found that the condition was quite appalling and showed no signs of improving at all. While the space under two flyovers is satisfactory, it is in atrocious condition under 20 flyovers. This is the state of prime real estate worth several hundred crore rupees. The space below some flyovers is used for parking while under the remaining ones greenery is supposed to be provided.
We conducted a study of the Santa Cruz flyover in 2008-09 and found this 1.5km long important flyover in an abysmal state. The MSRDC which built this flyover has allotted the space, through a tender, to a private contractor to use for parking of vehicles at a fee. The total area available for parking is 12480sqm which comes to about 832 parking spaces. The contractor is allowed to charge र5/hr for cars, र10/hr for buses, र2/hr for 3wheelers and र1/hr for two wheelers as parking fee. He has to pay the MSRDC र30 lakh p.a. (a little over र8000 per day which translates to र10 per parking space per day). A consultant has also been appointed to look after the parking under flyovers at a fee of र60 lakh p.a. We found that many vehicles – trucks and cars, very old and very new – were parked under the flyover for days together. It was not clear whether the parking fee was charged for them and if yes, then at what rate. We understood that several new vehicles were confiscated by the lending banks for not paying the installments. There was no clarity in the way people parked the vehicles and whether, or how much, they paid for the same.
Providing right turns under the flyover between the columns
What was most interesting was the possibility of providing two right turning lanes between the columns supporting this flyover. We realised that this would free all the three lanes, each fully on both sides of the flyover, for straight traffic. This meant much faster through put (no of vehicles passing from there at a given time), as instead of only two, all three lanes would now be available for going straight. Besides, this also meant that the right turning traffic would get two lanes instead of one, occupy less space in the junction box and have a shorter turning radius. This would also reduce the chaos and overcrowding at the junction box which is never empty. It would reduce the anxiety to drive through the amber lights and keep on building the backlogs in all directions, especially during the peak hours. This junction under the flyover is one of the most heavily used ones with a throughput of over 25000 passengers in peak hour peak direction.
It took us a few months to convince the concerned multiple authorities the utility of this disarmingly simple concept of providing right turning lanes ‘under the flyover’. Fortunately, most officials were willing to give it a try as a police chowkey on one side of the crossing involves an outlay of several lakhs of rupees for relocation. Hence, after a great deal of co-ordination, we could open the center lane for traffic coming only from the airport side and turning right under the flyover towards the Santa Cruz station. It required some column protection, smoothening of the surface and putting of signages marking the right turn. This was implemented in a makeshift manner but even then the traffic movement improved considerably on this side. Once the encroaching police chowkey is shifted backwards, this will improve the traffic flow on both the sides at one of the busiest traffic junctions in Mumbai. There are two very busy right turns underneath. Plus, the traffic and noise below the flyover is very high. Hence, urgent completion of this small alteration will go a long way in improving the safety on the road and calming the traffic. The cost will be a few lakh rupees on a change that just was not considered in the design stage. Santa Cruz flyover is one more example of designing the flyovers purely from the structural engineering point of view without giving much thought to the traffic.